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Goiters can cause a wide range of problems, ranging from a tight feeling in your throat to severe hoarseness. In more extreme cases, goiters can make it difficult to breathe. However, this isn’t always the case; sometimes they cause no symptoms at all.

A goiter occurs when your thyroid gland—a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck—is abnormally enlarged, resulting in excessive swelling. Goiters are typically painless and can vary in size depending upon the underlying cause. 

What does the thyroid gland do?

The thyroid gland is one of the most important glands in your body; it’s responsible for regulating your hormones, controlling your metabolic rate, modifying your digestive function and even regulating your moods. When it is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) it can cause extensive difficulties.

What causes goiters?

Worldwide, most goiters are caused by iodine deficiencies, according to information from the Mayo Clinic

However, in the U.S., where iodized salt is easily available at supermarkets, goiters are generally caused by other conditions, such as: 

Graves' disease

In this autoimmune disease, your immune system attacks your thyroid, which overstimulates it, causing it to swell and an overproduce hormones, resulting in hyperthyroidism. 

What are the symptoms of an overactive thyroid?

Hyperthyroidism causes symptoms such as unintended weight loss in spite of an increased appetite. It also interferes with your heart rhythm, creating a rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or heart palpitations.

Other signs include:

  • Hand tremors
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Insomnia
  • Thin skin and fine hair

Hashimoto’s disease

In Hashimoto’s disease, your immune system attacks your thyroid gland, only this time it results in the underproduction of hormones, resulting in hypothyroidism. 

What are the signs of an underactive thyroid?

Hypothyroidism symptoms include:

  • Constipation
  • Problems with dry skin
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Hoarseness
  • High cholesterol
  • Thin hair
  • A slower heart rate than normal
  • Stiff joints
  • Puffiness, especially around your face
  • Memory problems
  • Depression

Anyone at any age can develop hypothyroidism. It’s important to get medical attention as soon as possible because in children and teens, thyroid problems may lead to stunted growth and delayed puberty, according to information from the Mayo Clinic.


In this condition, lumps filled with fluid are located on or around your thyroid, causing it to enlarge. Most of these nodules are benign.


Sometimes, a hormone called HCG (human chorionic gonadotropin) that is produced during pregnancy may cause a slight thyroid enlargement. 


This is an inflammatory condition that causes swelling and pain. It’s due to an abnormal production of the hormone thyroxine by the thyroid. 

Who is at greater risk of developing goiters?

Anyone can develop a goiter, but the following groups are at a higher risk:

  • Women
  • Those over 40 years old
  • Those with a family history of autoimmune disorders
  • Those who are pregnant
  • Those who have undergone menopause
  • Those who have had radiation treatments

How are goiters treated?

If your goiter is small and isn’t causing any problems, throat treatment is not always necessary. Medications such as thyroid hormone replacements can help. Larger goiters—particularly if they make it difficult to breathe-- often require throat surgery, where all or part of the thyroid gland is removed.

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose and Throat utilizes the latest, state-of-the-art equipment for throat surgery and throat treatment

We don’t just examine symptoms—we take a holistic approach to your health care and carefully evaluate how your condition is affecting not only your body, but the quality of your daily life. We believe in a comprehensive approach, whether that means medication, allergy treatment or surgery. 

We consider it a privilege to serve patients of all ages whether they need adult ENT services or pediatric ENT care. For more information or to schedule an appointment, please contact us today. 

Raleigh Capitol Ear, Nose, and Throat is the area's premiere physician-owned ENT practice with six convenient locations throughout Wake County. Our board-certified physicians have extensive experience in treating both common and complex cases to help adults and children alike. For more information or to schedule an appointment, contact us.

Sources not cited in article:

American Thyroid Association. “Goiter.” Online. 

Mayo Clinic. “Hyperthyroidism.” Online.